TR: Chamonix 2013 – L’Aiguille du Midi

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In the Trenches
In the Trenches

After we returned from La Grave the weather was forecast to turn and our bodies were weary so we opted for two days off.

The storm that was forecast materialised in spades and we were hit with powder fever. We hooked up with some old friends from Buller, Christophe & Samala, and her sister Naomi who area all spending the winter in Cham. They regularly ski with the guide ‘FanFan’ so we arranged a ski day after the storm to chase some powder.

It was a weird feeling – after our years working in the US it was common to get powder fever in the morning and race to the first lift. But Chamonix is a little different – if there’s been a big snowfall the lifts don’t generally open. There had been at least 20cm in the lower reaches of town with rumours of much more up high. As the storm had pushed up from the south there was even more on the Italian side but lifts weren’t open so there wasn’t much point in heading there.

Our plan was to head to the Aiguille mid-station and ski some powder in the trees – but as we were waiting at the station we found out that when the lift opened at 11 it would be all the way to the top, and furthermore when we got up there the sun came out! Fanfan suggested skiing the Couloir des Cosmiques but the reception to that was not overly welcomed. With two mothers of 5 total kids in the group the requirement was zero-risk so we elected to ski a more conventional Vallee Blanche line.

Obligatory shot of the Arete from the Bridge
Obligatory shot of the Arete from the Bridge

We descended the arete which is now becoming alarmingly comfortable for us, and traversed along the ridge to the top of the Grand Envers variation, upon which was had collected a conference of freeriders, each waiting for the other to drop first. 150cm had fallen during this storm up at the Aiguille and avalanche mitigation was front of mind.

Nicole & Naomi waiting for the conference to finish
Nicole & Naomi waiting for the conference to finish
Blowing snow, looking across to Italy
Blowing snow, looking across to Italy
Conference at the Grand Envers
Conference at the Grand Envers

After about 20 minutes of mexican standoff where nobody dared drop the first 45deg pitch we bailed on that idea and took a more shallow angled route.

Mexican Standoff Over
Mexican Standoff Over

After dropping in it was amazing – absolute bottomless pow, so deep that turning really wasn’t necessary at all, just some bounces with token pole plants to make it look like skiing. But at the bottom of each pitch some serious trail breaking needed to be done.

No action shots were taken as it was quite a serious situation – we were instructed to ski one by one from safe zone to safe zone with no stopping, so while I’d love to have proof of how good it was up there you’re just going to have to believe me. We did kick off a few minor slides as we went down but everything was manageable.

Looking back up at the Aiguille
Looking back up at the Aiguille
In the Trenches
In the Trenches
These guys missed the track. Sucks to be them!
These guys missed the track. Sucks to be them!
In the Trenches
In the Trenches

The powder was untracked from the top to the glacier below, only in the lower reaches did we start feeling the bottom but even then we could work the aspects and have a smooth run.

Freshies lower down
Freshies lower down

Then it was the usual conveyor belt along the Mer de Glace to the lower reaches of the glacier, then the moraine hike and the James Bond trail to town.

We got back in good time and felt like another run, so we headed to the mid-station and traversed far skier’s right and skied some great pow until it got warm down into the trees. Even this area was quite active with avalanches so we obeyed good protocol which again meant no photos!

This sounds like quite a benign day and lack of photos to support the evidence, but it really was quite a remarkable day. There was an unfathomable amount of new snow up on the upper reaches of the Aiguille and on the pitches where it was steep enough to actually ski it, the quality was superb. But the euphoria of the snow was tempered with the graveness of the situation regarding the safety, we were in extremely good hands and never felt particularly unsafe, but by the same token people not under such expert supervision could have been far less lucky.

Day 14 – Les Grands Montets

After the previous day’s blue sky powder bonanza, round II of the storm rolled in. We headed to Grands Montets as the top tram didn’t open the day before but was set to open.

Unfortunately I totally fucked it up by forgetting my beacon, only realising when in the line for the second tram. Jerome had some spares in the car so I headed down but that meant that we were on the 4th top tram instead of the second.

The first run down was untracked but slightly heavy powder in really flat light. It was nice, but I was just not feeling right. In hindsight forgetting the beacon showed that I was not quite with it. I was tempted to call it after that run but there was a Dynastar demo center at the mid station so I went in and asked for some fat skis. It was the second time in two days that I was offered something narrower and shorter than I walked in holding – Dynastar Cham 97 175cm vs my 180cm 98mm Blizzard Kabookies. When I stopped laughing I grabbed a pair of 189cm Cham 127mm and headed back up.

Unfortunately the fog had really rolled in which meant no chance of heading on to the glacier so we had to stick to the beaten track which was pretty chopped powder. The skis helped but it was still pretty average. This pretty much finished me off so I headed inside not wanting to wear myself out further or hurt myself, and Nicole and Jerome headed up for 3 more laps. They said the vis came and went, they found some good snow and did one run where they skied along the tongue of the Glacier d’Argentiere which was fun until it turned into the usual low down combat skiing.

Not a day for photos – here’s one from the first run:

Nicole Grands Montets Braille Powder
Nicole Grands Montets Braille Powder

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